Vanilla ice cream. It’s so boring it’s almost a joke, you’d think?
That maybe true of the mass-produced, bland, tasteless soft-scoop rubbish you get at any mediocre supermarket, but the real thing is something else altogether.
At it’s best – at it’s very best – vanilla is the king of ice creams, fantastic on its own, even better as a foil to just about any other dessert.
A scoop of proper vanilla ice cream alongside that apple pie?
Thankyou, I rest my case.
The really great thing about vanilla ice cream is that it’s pretty straightforward. It’s an excellent place to start if you’re making ice cream for the first time, or for the first time in a very long time, as in my case.
A quick word on equipment. Whilst it’s perfectly possible to make reasonable ice cream without a machine by simply beating the mixture a few times with a fork as it freezes, the result will be grainy. Tasty, but a bit too rough.
You really do need a machine. This machine, is very similar to the one I’ve got…the bowl is pre-frozen overnight, and you simply pour the mixture into it and let a paddle powered by a little motor churn it around until you’ve got ice cream.
It’ll do the job.
Of course, if you plan on making ice cream regularly or on a more industrial scale, something like this might be more your thing, especially if your pockets are deep or your ice cream obsession large.
Anyway, back to business. This vanilla is a standard custard based ice cream, involving eggs, sugar and cream.
Warm 250ml of whole milk, 250ml of double cream 150g of sugar and a pinch of salt in a pan until hot, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Split a vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape the seeds into the milk and cream. Add the rest of the vanilla pod itself for good measure.
The mixture will look…well, it’ll look a bit of a mess, actually. The vanilla seeds are sticky, and the chances are, there’ll be big clumps floating around that refuse to disperse. Don’t worry about this – the point of the exercise is to infuse the milk and cream with vanilla – all that debris will be suitably dealt with when its done its job.
Let the mixture steep for half an hour.
Separate six large eggs, and whisk the yolks together in bowl. Set a sieve on top of the bowl and very slowly pour the vanilla infused milk and cream through the sieve, whisking all the time.
Hot milk plus egg yolks without whisking equals very milky scrambled eggs, so go slowly and keep it all moving.
When all the milk and cream mix is in the bowl, give the pan a quick rinse to get rid of the remains of the vanilla pod and tip the milk, cream and eggs back into it. What you’ve got now is a custard, or at least you will have when you cook it.
Heat the pan gently, stirring with a spatula all the time. Keep the spatula moving across the bottom of the pan to stop the custard catching and burning. The custard is ready when it thickens and starts to cling to and cover the back of the spatula, so that you can leave a trail on it if you draw your finger across.
Plus, it’ll start to look like custard.
In another bowl (note the number of bowls needed = lots), measure out another 250ml of double cream and then sieve the custard into the bowl, stirring it all together. Add three-quarters of a teaspoon of vanilla extract at this point, too, just to beef up the flavour a bit.
Cool the mixture as quickly as you can by plunging the bowl in a sink of cold water and stirring it around for a while, then refrigerate it until it’s quite cold. I normally make the mixture the night before and freeze it in the morning. Trying to make ice cream out of anything other than an ice-cold mixture will be disastrous.
When everything is ready, freeze the ice cream according to your machine’s instructions. Usually, this simply amounts to setting the machine up, pouring the mixture in and waiting for fifteen or twenty minutes.
The ice cream will still be quite loose, and it should be easy to pour and scrape it into a plastic box. Put the ice cream in the freezer to firm up for a couple of hours before serving.
Domestic freezers are designed to store food for what feels like eternity. They’re not designed to hold ice cream at the best serving temperature, so when you feel like a scoop or two, you’ll find that your carefully crafted vanilla is frozen hard. Domestic ice cream machines don’t churn as thoroughly as commercial ones, and they don’t tend to incorporate as much air into the mix – this isn’t a bad thing…it means that your ice cream will be tastier, but it’ll be denser, and it’ll need to thaw slightly before serving.
Home made ice cream needs a good fifteen minutes out of the freezer to soften to a scoopable consistency.
This is the first ice cream that any beginner should try. It’s a classic, it tastes sublime, and it shows just how good a home-made ice cream can be.
This recipe comes from the infectiously enthusiastic David Liebovitz’s excellent book, The Perfect Scoop.
More ice cream coming up – the kids have just silently munched through a cone each of gianduja gelato, an Italian hazelnut and milk chocolate ice cream.
It was really quite good.
At least that’s what the kids told me.